Careers Question: How Important Is My Upcoming Phone Screen?

Anyone who runs recruiting probably thinks about the following question all the time. How can we distinguish the firm’s future stars from those who simply have good resumes?  Well that’s a good question. What many applicants don’t know is that employers often get hundreds, sometimes thousands of resumes. That’s especially true now, where the economy is slumping and where a record number of qualified applicants (and overall applicants) are out of work.  So today, recruiters not only have the task of sorting through resumes and screening candidates, but they also have the nuanced task of of interviewing more people and looking more closely at all parts of the interview process.  And in a recent question on GottaMentor I responded to a question about just that.

“Is my phone screen more casual than a typical interview” I was asked on the website. Conventional wisdom suggests that phone screens are more of an initial hurdle before the real deal in-person meetings. The meetings where you schmooze with with HR, try to prove fit with the team, and convince the line manager that you’re the future leader the firm’s been looking for. Years ago, before the internet skyrocketed the number of applications for open positions and before the economic downturn put more people out of work, this idea probably had a bit more validity. But those days are long gone.

Today, open positions not only get hundreds and even thousands of applicants, they also get a very large number of really qualified ones. And as such, all the parts of an interview are becoming more important. And so my belief is that the phone screen is no longer a “screen”. It’s a distinct and important part of the interview process, which means that you should prepare with the same level of seriousness that you would for an in-person interview.  You should practice the same questions, evince the same confidence and politeness, demonstrate that you’re both a leader and a team player, and be sure you have the same level of preparedness and relaxation. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Phone Interviews May Give You More Time. For one, you never know an interviewer’s schedule. And unless the recruiter is scheduled back to back all day, then there may not be a hard cut off in terms of time like there might be in person, where you are in an unfamiliar environment and where the interviewer will have likely scheduled your interview around their other important meetings. But on the phone, you can often take more of a lead, ask a few extra questions, and as a result, really collect and pass along good information. As such, the more prepared you are, the better conversation you might be able to have.

2. Interviews Are Often Holistic. Second, I think many candidates tend to over-compartmentalize the interview process. While on one hand an interview might be intended to be more of a screen to the next round, and may have little bearing on how things progress afterward, on the other hand it could instead lay the groundwork going forward. And if the firm has discussions on the what the screener thought about you the conversation, it could have serious impact on how people perceive you during the next round.I think this is especially true if you do really well, because then the recruiter will share all your information with those you’ll meet next. It’s also especially true at companies like Goldman Sachs and Google, where the firms keep intricate records of the people they interview, even if that interview is done by phone.

3. Good Leaders Are Always On. Third, my general belief is that you’re always representing yourself and your organizations during every interaction. That’s especially true during interviews where the person across from you, or on the other line, has the task of assessing you as a candidate. It’s also especially true today, where information travels at the speed of light speed and so the chances that what you say will be common knowledge at the firm are higher, not to mention where the chances of running to someone again at a career-related event or during another interview down the line are high. And so you should try to think longer term about the interviews you go through, especially if you intend to stay in the same industry.

Having conducted a large number of interviews  and gone on a pretty large number of interviews myself, I speak from experience with all three.  For many it may sound unreasonable to put so many hours into prepping for a phone talk, especially older candidates who are not used to putting in so much time just to use the phone. But from experience I would suggest that it’s not. After all, interviews, whether they seem difficult or not, demand a great deal of skill and agility. And that’s especially true if the interviewer is less experienced because in those cases you’ll want to be sure you convey all of the right information. As such, I recommend that you give the same time and effort that you would an in-person meeting so you can present yourself in the best light possible. Because in the end, you never know how things will play out.

Good luck!

** PS As I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts (post on Gottamentor and post on resumes), you might considering taking a look at GottaMentor.com when you get the chance. For now, though, here’s a sneak peak at another one of my responses from the site.

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 Careers

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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